Micro-Advertising Movement is About to Hit the Industry Hard

With the success of six and fifteen-second video apps (Vine, SnapChat, Instagram, Poke) and the inevitable integration with sophisticated editing software, young consumers are becoming a generation that acts, thinks and communicates in six-second bursts. A new app is introducing the six-word six+word+memoirsmemoir/news/advice/question. Life is being reduced to six seconds, six words! How long until commercials longer than six-seconds will simply be too much for a “six-obsessed” young person to absorb?

When television came along, content creators worried 25 to 30 minutes wasn't enough time to tell a good story, having grown accustomed to the 80 to 120 minute feature film length afforded them by the cinema. Of course, 80 to 120 minutes wasn't always the boilerplate length of time for a feature film to run, but rather was dictated by the business of the movie industry. The early cinema experience consisted of a newsreel, a cartoon, a comedy short, an adventure serial, a big budget, star-studded feature picture, and a schlocky, low-budget "B" picture. Eventually theaters began running single films averaging around 100 minutes. Theories from film scholars, critics, filmmakers and armchair film journalists across the web suggest a number of factors:

  • The length of a roll of 35mm film runs for about an hour, so one film on two rolls of film makes for two hour features.
  • A three-hour film can only be run three times in a twelve hour business day, given time between playing's to clean up and sell tickets. A 90 to 120 minute film can be run five times, which means two more screenings, which means more ticket sales.
  • Hour long dramas have always been a staple of television, and film needs longer running time.
  • Movies over two hours long become more and more expensive to produce.

The specifics are debatable, but the point is that the 80 to 120 minute length for feature films has a lot more to do with business and logistics than it has to do with the art of storytelling. Robert Rodriguez's Bedhead is proof enough that you can tell a great story with only ten or so minutes at your disposal, The+Wirewhile the seminal television series The Wire proves that you can tell a great story over the course of fifty hours as well. In short, the medium did not adapt to the artists, the artists adapted to the medium.

Filmmakers have always adapted to the medium. When filmmaker Spike Jonze got his start, it was in music videos, making three and four minute films for his clients. The resulting Sabotage video for the Beastie Boys is a classic piece of kitschy action cinema. Guy Ritchie couldn't even find music video work, directing commercials for a living. Even the legendary Sergio Leone, the great director of spaghetti westerns, directed a classic car commercial featuring a car snapping free of thick chains in a Roman coliseum, and the piece is every bit as epic in tone and feel as his classic films. Artists have always adapted to the medium. Cave walls weren't invented for the first painters, the first painters simply found a way to use cave walls as a medium of self-expression.

The format is dictated by the times, by the business model, and by the tools available to the artist, and the content creators adapt. Right now, the format du jour is the five, six and fifteen-second video as dictated by a number of factors:

  • Choice and the Pre-Roll

This is the big one, especially when it comes to pre-roll advertising. With only three channels to choose from, networks can afford to run minute-long commercials safe in the knowledge that, if they're the one airing Ed Sullivan, people are going to stay tuned. Now, if you ask people to stay tuned for a minute-long ad before their YouTube video, they're going to move right along.

  • The Rise of Social Video

Snapchat, the photo messaging service, allows users to send videos of up to ten seconds to one another along with drawings, photos and text. Snapchat and similar platforms like Vine and Instagram Video have simply established video-based multimedia as a means of communication. Some users have moved from using the short video format to send messages to creating and sharing original creative video content.

  • Viewer Expectations

Seth Godin points to the bell-curve that maps an idea's lifespan. At the start, you have a few early adopters. They spread the word to others and the idea snowballs until it peaks in the center, and then slowly tapers off as it catches on with the latecomers. Ultimately, we're seeing shorter television ads because viewers expect shorter content, and television advertisers simply can't fight those expectations and maintain a profitable business model.

Some video makers, both amateur and professional, saw the six-second revolution coming and produced content for it pre-emptively. That Guy with the Glasses, AKA The Nostalgia Critic, caught on with a series of videos entitled ___ in Five Seconds. Some of these videos ran a little longer than five seconds, but they took feature length films and gave you everything you needed to know about them in as short a time as possible. Titanic in Five Seconds cuts immediately from a character declaring the ship to be unsinkable to the ship sinking, set to Celine Dion. Titanic in Five Seconds currently has more than ten million views on YouTube. The official film trailer has fewer than seven million views.

Thirty Second Bunnies, another short film series, also produced a Titanic themed episode, which generated over one million views on YouTube. Five Second Films, a YouTube channel with over 1,200 Patton+Oswaltvideos, has several videos with millions of views. Content creators include stars like Patton Oswalt, who can produce an incredible volume and keep budget and risk very, very low. The quick-and-cheap nature of these productions also allows for a lot of experimentation. A feature filmmaker cannot afford to be too playful with tens of millions of dollars, but on a budget of, usually, zero dollars, and with ten more videos to produce this week, people who make Vines and five second films have freedom to explore weird ideas with no real risk.

The next wave of young filmmakers may have little interest in feature films, in directing for television or even creating music videos and thirty-second commercials. Five and six second formats, sites like www.YTMND.com and OneMinuteNews, and even looping, animated GIF images offer the perfect format to reach people who might not be inclined to sit down for even a two or three-minute video. This format is an opportunity for advertisers and agencies. If consumers can encapsulate moments of their lives and communicate effectively in six-seconds and six-words, then certainly marketers and sophisticated ad creatives can learn to generate real interest in a brand and encourage viewers to learn more. The next wave of social media marketers need to prepare for the millions of amateur filmmakers who will be commenting on their favorite (and least favorite) brands and media preferences via six-second and six-word messages. Not only will they produce prodigious quantities of six second messages, but they will relish the opportunity to share those messages and compete for viral success. Vine and Instagram are about to revolutionize the role of video in social marketing. Facebook, Twitter and especially YouTube will be the battleground where marketers and consumers fight for "share of eye," and legacy measurement tools will be almost useless in the face of simple view counts.

Take some time and watch some five and six second videos, particularly those in the Five Second Films series. They may not seem very long and may seem too short for effective advertising; but when it comes to taking time from a consumer's life to tell them about a brand, product or service, advertisers and digital media publishers will soon realize that five, six and fifteen seconds will be all they have. So learn to live with it.

Watch this 15-second Jack Myers video about 15-second videos.

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